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Carole gets animated



No, not in that sense, though the event we're referring to occurred while "Nothing Sacred" (and "True Confession") were in theaters, briefly making Carole Lombard the hottest actress in the film industry. It's Dec. 21, 1937, and Lombard and Clark Gable are among movie VIP's attending the world premiere of a landmark film -- and what appeared to be a monumental gamble. The movie?



Walt Disney's "Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs."

These days, with a new animated feature in theaters seemingly every week, it's difficult to comprehend the risk Disney was taking with this endeavor. While the public had made Mickey Mouse, introduced less than a decade before, a global icon and Disney's "Silly Symphonies" were also major hits, the jury was out on whether people would go for an animated film of feature length. The mere cost of such a project seemed daunting.

But Disney persevered, getting significant financial backing from the Bank of America among other investors. (One of them was General Foods, which made a million-dollar deal in 1934 to market Mickey Mouse and other Disney characters on boxes of Post Toasties; the feature cost $1.5 million to make.) A few days before Christmas 1937, Walt unveiled "Snow White" to the world at the Carthay Circle theater in Los Angeles.

Here's how the RKO-Pathe newsreel covered it; while Gable and Lombard aren't shown arriving, you will see Marlene Dietrich with Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Shirley Temple, Preston Foster and Louella Parsons:



(Incidentally, this event marked the first time Disney characters had appeared in costume.)

Other notables on hand included Charlie Chaplin with Paulette Goddard, George Burns and Gracie Allen, Cary Grant, Gail Patrick, Jack Benny, John Barrymore, Norma Shearer and Judy Garland. Despite a chilly evening, more than 30,000 showed up to watch the stars arrive.

Among those who didn't have tickets? Adrianna Caselotti and Harry Stockwell, who voiced Snow White and the Prince. But just as their cartoon alter egos would have appreciated, this story had a happy ending, as Caselotti later explained:

"When we got to the door, the girl said, 'May I have your tickets, please?' I said, 'Tickets? We don't have any tickets —- I'm Snow White and this is Prince Charming!' She said, 'I don't care who you are, you don't get in unless you've got tickets!' So, we sneaked in when she wasn't looking and we went upstairs to one side of the balcony and I stood there watching myself on the screen and all those movie stars clapping for me. Boy! Did I get a thrill out of that!"

Caselotti may have been thrilled, but others involved with the project were nervous. While "Snow White" had drawn a good reaction two weeks earlier at a sneak preview in Pomona, how would Hollywood bigwigs react? Animator Ward Kimball took in the action -- and guess who was seated in front of him?

"We didn't know how it would go over. Walt was on pins and needles. We sat down. Movie stars were sitting in seats. Betty and I sat behind Clark Gable and Carole Lombard."

And their reaction to the film?

"Clark Gable and Carole Lombard were sitting close, and when Snow White was poisoned, stretched out on that slab, they started blowing their noses. I could hear it -- crying -- that was the big surprise. We worried about the serious stuff, and whether they would feel for this girl, and when they did, I knew it was in the bag. ...



"It's hard to believe but the people in the audience were really blowing their noses. I heard all this noise and I said, 'Betty, let's run out and watch them come out in the lobby.' They came out and they were rummaging around putting on dark glasses so no one would know they had been crying and their eyes were all red. They were wiping their eyes. It was a very moving experience. We knew it was a winner then."




Layout artist Ken O'Connor said the audience not only loved the story, but appreciated the artistry that went into telling it:

"The audience was wildly enthusiastic. They even applauded the background and layouts when no animation was on the screen. I was sitting near John Barrymore when the shot of the Queen's castle above the mist came on with the Queen poling across the marsh in a little boat. He was bouncing up and down in his seat he was so excited. Barrymore was an artist as well as an actor, and he knew the kind of work that went into something like that."

When the lights came back on, Walt addressed the audience from the stage in understandable triumph: "I always dreamed that one day I would attend a gala premiere in Hollywood of one of my cartoons. Tonight you've made it come true. You make me feel like one of you."

Even before the film had begun, the public had been buying advance sale tickets for performances at the Carthay Circle. Now the demand was huge. "Snow White" played at the theater for four months, with a Spanish-language version, "Blanca Nieves y los Siete Enanos," shown there on Sundays beginning in February. By the time the first release ended, it had grossed $8.5 million, a record that would be topped two years later by Gable's "Gone With The Wind," which made its Hollywood premiere at the Carthay Circle.



The theater, shown during the premiere of another 1937 film, "The Life Of Emile Zola," played a major part in Disney lore. Not only did "Snow White" premiere there, but it was also the first theater to carry a Disney "Silly Symphony," in 1929, when most distributors were skeptical whether Walt could produce product beyond Mickey Mouse. So while the actual L.A. Carthay Circle closed in 1968 and was subsequently razed, it lives again 3,000 miles to the east, in Orlando, Fla., as part of the Disney Hollywood studio complex, and inside you can see photos of that historic night in December of '37:



Incidentally, if you're a "Snow White" buff, you'll want to visit "Filmic Light: A Snow White Archive" (http://filmic-light.blogspot.com/), a site featuring virtually everything related to this epochal movie.

P.S. Hope you like the new look of "Carole & Co.", as I changed the color scheme and put up a new header photo.
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